March 21st, 2007
Lyrael’s Sacrifice

Even in times of famine and drought, when the rains didn’t come and the tribe members died along the long-horned cattle and the goats and the camels, when the desert swept in and reclaimed the land at the base of the forbidden mountains—even in those times, the girl children of the Azzura clan were offered food and water first.

They were protected and guarded, watched over as they grew to womanhood. Their skin was kept smooth and free of hair except for eyebrows and eyelashes above sky-blue eyes, except for the golden tresses which flowed like silken sunshine to below their knees and even to their ankles.

The last few years had been good and the tribe had prospered. Now the time had come to take the jewelry and hides and livestock to the far mountains and to the sea beyond. But in order to gain the wealth offered by those distant cities and ports, to use the riches to attract husbands and wives so new blood would be added, the tribe had to trek across the desert. They would need to avoid the Djinn, the spirits who hated all mankind, who killed with shifting sand and violent sandstorms. Who could sometimes be distracted, appeased by a gift—by the sacrifice of one of the Azzura.

The tent village was broken down in preparation for the trip. The camels loaded, save for a single camel and a single structure where seven women waited.

The tribal elders gathered around a fire under a sky containing both the setting sun and rising moon. Their deeply tanned faces were wrinkled, somber, their fingers gnarled by age and hard work.

They passed a cup made from an ancient skull, drank the bitter, dark brew it contained and felt the liquid burn through them. When the cup was empty, they danced as the younger men pounded on drums made of animal hides stretched across frames of bone. They danced until they were lightheaded, until they felt the god’s presence. Only then did the drums cease and the eldest of them pick up the carved pieces of wood and cast them into the fire. His voice lifted in praise to the god for interceding when six of the tokens disappeared in hungry flame while the seventh lay smoldering on a bed of ash. It was a clear sign telling them which of the Azzura was to be offered to the Djinn so the rest of the tribe might travel through the desert safely.